The United States Powerboat Show draws the best and brightest elements of motorized yachting to Annapolis each year, filling the city dock area with bold, powerful craft new to the world market.
Within the annual maze of super sportfishermen, motor yachts, trawlers and muscle boats, there also is to be found a cadre of Maryland builders who are creating Chesapeake Bay boats with a fine mix of tradition and technology.
Day boats, fishing boats, cruising boats, all built with an eye toward what Joe Reid of the Mast and Mallet in Galesville said is, in part, a nostalgia for traditional boats built expressly to serve the purpose of their owners.
"Our business is based very much on a resurgence of nostalgia for the beauty and feel of a wooden boat," said Reid, whose small shop in south Anne Arundel County turns out three or fewer boats per year.
"And when you are building boats one at a time, the cost is very similar to production fiberglass boats."
For the Mast and Mallet and Belkov Yacht Carpentry of Annapolis, customers come slowly and ready from a small, knowledgeable segment of the yacht market.
The business of selling is limited to a handful of boat shows, selective advertising and the buzz of conversation their boats generally cause when they pass.
Theirs is a far different game from that played by the heavyweights in the yachting marketplace, production-line companies that have produced thousands of fiberglass yachts over the years and advertise heavily.
When the powerboat show opens to the public tomorrow, the longest lines probably will be formed before the fishing and cruising boats exhibited by Hatteras, Viking, Sea Ray, Regal, Grady-White, Wellcraft and a dozen or so other major manufacturers.
"We don't compete with production lines, because our customers aren't interested in that type of boat," said Reid, whose company also restores and maintains wooden boats. "Usually, we get people who have owned boats before and want certain changes to make a boat meet their needs or their comforts.
Larry Belkov, who has been in business in Annapolis for 15 years, said the trend toward traditional boat designs is part of an overall improvement in the boat marketplace over the past few years.
"In general, sales are up and people are buying," said Belkov, whose prize design is a Hooper Island Draketail Picnic Express, which is based on a Chesapeake Bay workboat that was in demand around the turn of the last century.
"This area [traditional designs] is a very active one, and lobster yachts, picnic boats and day boats are becoming very popular," said Belkov. "But for us, it is more a matter of getting our foot in the door and not the changes in the marketplace."
New England builders have carried a bulk of the business for yachts built from the lines of workboats, pleasing to the eye and whose practical development ensures safe and economical performance on the water.
"This particular design [the 34-foot, 8-inch Draketail] is one of the most fuel-efficient, if not the most efficient, out there," said Belkov. "It originally was a transition design from the time when working boats were changing over, the time when automobile engines were being dropped into workboats and the sail rigs were coming down."
Belkov, using a cold-molded process that blends woods and epoxy resins along with computer-aided construction techniques, is taking the Draketail through another transition, from the best of the bunch at the turn of the last century to what he hopes will become a favorite among Chesapeake boaters well into the next.
"This was one of the fastest designs of that time and was favored by rum runners, watermen during the oyster wars who wanted to outrun the oyster police and so on," said Belkov, whose Draketails are mechanically and structurally far superior to the boats of the early 1900s.
Belkov has been an exhibitor at the Annapolis show for 14 years, and again this year will have a shoreside exhibit, even though original plans called for the Draketail to be on display in the water. A tight production schedule and changes in the layout of the boat made it impossible for it to be ready for this year's show, said Belkov, adding that the Annapolis show is the only major marketing push he makes all year.
Facts and figures
What: United States Powerboat Show
When: Tomorrow-Sunday. 10 a.m. opening each day
Where: City Docks, Annapolis
Admission: $11 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under
Parking: Shuttle bus service from parking area off Rowe Boulevard (exit 24 south from Route 50).